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Despite producing a relatively small amount of wine, the gamay grape’s fortune continues to grow in Ontario. The quality of what’s produced has made it into one of the industry’s signature varieties.
Ontario wineries produced nearly 500,000 bottles of gamay in the 2019 vintage. That’s 3 per cent of the total volume produced, but the popularity of those wines with the restaurant trade and collectors has elevated gamay to become a core variety. (Another core red wine variety in Ontario, pinot noir, represents 7 per cent of production.)
Pioneering wineries, such as Cave Spring and Château des Charmes, embraced gamay because it ripens relatively early, a serious benefit given the uncertainties of Ontario’s shorter growing season. The unassuming, lively and refreshing style of these early wines, which suggested a mix of cherry and red berry fruit with subtle peppery notes, made them charming pizza, pasta and burger wines.
A few years later, Malivoire Wine Company and 13th Street Winery helped to draw attention to gamay’s star power in Niagara. These wines were treated more like pinot noir, with attention to detail in the vineyard and time afforded to age in French oak barrels to gain added complexity and character.
Ten years ago, there were just over 20 different gamay wines available to consumers. Today, there are more than 60 different reds on offer, from more than 40 wineries.
Producers to watch for include: 13th Street Winery; Adamo; Bachelder; Cave Spring; Château des Charmes; Hidden Bench; Leaning Post; Malivoire; Southbrook; and Stratus.
In the vineyard, gamay vines are vigorous. Growers need to reduce the crop to ensure getting all the grapes ripe. More premium producers reduce their yields with an eye toward producing a richer and more flavourful wine. The best examples made in Ontario are available in the $15 to $30 range, which is a splurge for some wine consumers but represents good value for the quality.
While gamay tends to produce lighter and brighter styles of red wine, there’s significant variation across wineries in Ontario. Fruity and juicy styles tend to be more affordably priced, while more serious and complex examples offer more concentrated character and command a higher price as a result.